A boiler with useless husband and son

6th July 2007 at 01:00
When she speaks her husband can do nothing but listen. She sits there as grim and unattractive as an industrial boiler.

They are both unemployed. The only shape that their lives have is provided for them by the school and their opposition to it. They are part of a large extended family and are related to every possible villain in the area. A petty mafia of second-rate crooks all which school represents is opposition and argument.

They sit in their car long before the end of school, revving its cranky engine, waiting for Leon to come out. Children lean out of windows to wave and shout, lessons disrupted, a moment's trivial celebrity welcomed. They then question Leon about what has happened in the day, turn off the engine and stomp into the school to complain once more.

It happens all the time. There is no argument too small for them to get involved. And of course the effect of it all is that Leon has parental approval for the things that he does. The spirit of contempt in which he holds his education has been created for him by their aimlessness. He has no aspirations. Why should he his parents have none.

Today they want to complain about the maths teacher. He has been picking on Leon apparently. The father is small and tattooed, like a decorated rat. She is large and plain scary. Coarse skin, coarse mind, coarse language. I have to stop our discussion to ask her not to swear. I try to move things on, to express concerns about Leon's future.

He is sullen, unresponsive, apathetic. His mother bangs on: "He doesn't like teachers, he doesn't like school."

For reasons they cannot explain, they believe that five days a week of school is too much for him. The discussion is going nowhere. It will do nothing to address his behaviour or his attitude. I am merely going through the unpleasant motions.

Suddenly his father explodes. He turns upon Leon and starts screaming at him. "What are you going to do with your life? You can't go on like this! What job do you want? Waster."

Everyone is shocked by this unexpected outburst. His mother's snarling and unquestioning support for Leon is suddenly silenced. Leon for the first time looks vaguely interested in what is happening.

But Mr Rat subsides. His animation disappears. He has revealed too much. Who was he talking about Leon or himself?

But the mood has been broken and the meeting ends. For a brief moment the curtains are opened and you get a glimpse of the forces which have shaped the problem you are trying to manage.

In that moment the details of their domestic life were laid bare. A courageous man, I would say. I just wouldn't like to be in his shoes when he gets home.

John Sutton is a pseudonym. He is a headteacher in North Wales

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